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The Pope and the Lord’s Prayer

I have received numerous queries about the Pope’s recent comments about the Lord’s Prayer.   There has been a good deal of news coverage on the topic.  Here is an article from my local paper:

http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/NewsandObserver/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=NAO%2F2017%2F12%2F09&entity=Ar05202&sk=CF05DD44&mode=text

The issue is summed up in that article as this:

In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer – “lead us not into temptation” – was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

And so I have been asked by several people what I think about that.   There are at least three issues involved:

  1. What should Christians today pray?  On this, unlike the Pope, I have no opinion.  I completely understand that the Pope does not want anyone to think that God himself is responsible for bringing temptation.  And I suppose as head of the Catholic Church, he has the right to suggest that Christians pray something appropriate rather than inappropriate.  But, as most readers on this blog probably realize, I myself am in no position (and have no inclination) to make suggestions about people’s prayer lives.
  2. What does the Gospel of Matthew actually indicate that Jesus told his disciples to pray? On this I’m more of an expert.  The Greek is completely unambiguous.  It decidedly does not say what the Pope wants it to say.  It does not talk about Satan leading people into temptation or about people “falling” into temptation.  Matthew’s wording is clear:  KAI MH EISENEGKHiS HMAS EIS PEIRASMON.   The key word is EISENEGKHiS (“lead us into”)  It is an aorist, active, subjunctive, second person, singular, with the subjunctive being used with an imperatival force in a negative command.  The word itself is a compound verb with EIS (“into”) and ENEGHKiS (“bring”).   The proper translation then, is “Do not bring us into temptation.”  It’s not ambiguous.It is directed to “Our Father” and it is asking God not to put a person into a time of temptation or trial.  The word “temptation” can mean what we mean by it – the temptation to do something wrong or sinful.  But it can also refer to a test or trial.   So it could mean something like:  don’t make us undergo a time of trial at the end of this age.
  1. What did Jesus actually teach his disciples to pray? This is a tricky historical question, and I don’t have a definitive answer.   The prayer as found in Matthew 6:9-13 is partially found, as well, in Luke 11:2-4 – including this line “Do not bring us into temptation/trial.”   That means that the prayer – or at least the heart of it, including the line in question – comes from Q.  So it is older than both Matthew and Luke.  Does the prayer go back to the historical Jesus?  My inclination is to think that it does, in no small measure because it coincides so well with his apocalyptic message otherwise.   The prayer is asking for God to bring his kingdom soon to earth, to help his followers live till then (“daily bread”), to make them qualified for the kingdom (“forgive us our debts”), and to keep them from facing trials and tribulations at the end of the age.Short story: if Jesus did teach this prayer – as I’m inclined to think he did – he probably did teach his disciples to ask not to be brought by God into a time of trial.   Whether that’s what Christians ought to pray today or not is up to the individual Christian.  And, apparently, to the Pope.Members of the blog can read posts like this all the time, at least five times a week.  If you don’t belong yet, you can join for very little money (less than a dime a post).  All the money goes to charities fighting hunger and homelessness.  So why not JOIN???

 


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Steefen  December 11, 2017

    I’ve always seen God as one who:
    1) hardened Pharoah’s heart which is worse than leading someone into temptation
    2) Put the fruit tree in Eden without Keeping Out of Reach of Children
    3) Made his son cry in the Garden of Gethsemene and didn’t find a better way for him to be a savior
    4) and more.

  2. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  December 11, 2017

    I like Mark Twain’s take on that line of the Our Father. In “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg,” the entire town was taken in by a scheme that required them to rationalize a lie because their belief that they had never succumbed to temptation of any sort of temptation rendered them arrogant and proud. Once exposed, they deleted the word “not” from the town motto so it read, “Lead us into temptation.” Temptation allows us to discover what kind of people we really are. In fact, the same gospels that include the Our Father agree with Mark that Jesus was led (or driven) by the Spirit to his place of temptation, though the Spirit may not have done the actual tempting.

  3. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  December 12, 2017

    Regarding “EISENEGKHiS”. How can you possibly judge what was in the original prayer? This is a Greek word recorded, as you are convinced, by someone who had never even met Jesus. The original prayer was in Aramaic. What if the original author mistranslated what he was told? What if what he was told was already mistranslated in the oral tradition, since it was supposedly not given by an eyewitness? I can write volumes about “EISENEGKHiS”, but Jesus probably never used “EISENEGKHiS” once in his life…

    • Bart
      Bart  December 12, 2017

      That’s what scholars of the historical Jesus do for a living! One has to look at all the evidence and then evaluate it.

  4. Avatar
    mjordan20149  December 12, 2017

    If you recite the prayer in Spanish or Italian, you say “don’t let us fall into temptation” (no nos dejes caer in tentacion, or non ci indurre in tentazione) so it looks to me like the pope is thinking in one of those languages instead of English.

  5. Avatar
    Jana  December 12, 2017

    Please help me clarify Dr. Ehrman. I’m unclear …If I recall correctly from one of your earlier blogs … Since Jesus spoke in Aramaic and taught in Aramaic, wouldn’t the Lord’s Prayer have been in Aramaic? And then do we know how the prayer would have read including the word “temptation/trial” in Aramaic?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      Yes, it would have been. I’m not sure how the Aramaic would have been worded — but there are some other experts on the blog: maybe they can make a suggestion.

  6. Avatar
    AnotherBart  December 12, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, do you think Jesus had read 1st & 2nd Maccabees?

    Great Points:
    ….. Matthew 6:9-13 …..Luke 11:2-4 ……. “Do not bring us into temptation/trial.”
    ……… it coincides so well with his apocalyptic message otherwise.
    The prayer is asking for God to bring his kingdom soon to earth,
    to help his followers live till then (“daily bread”),
    to make them qualified for the kingdom (“forgive us our debts”), and
    to keep them from facing trials and tribulations
    at the end of the age.
    Short story: if Jesus did teach this prayer – as I’m inclined to think he did –
    he probably did teach his disciples to ask not to be brought by God into a time of trial.”

    I would add that it is easy for us to project our 21st Century mindset that sees “Trial” and “Temptation” as two and not one concept. “Is it a TRIAL or is it a TEMPTATION?” Could it be that Jesus and his followers had a concept that sometimes/often merged the two?

    Now that I’ve digested 1st and 2nd Maccabees, I tend to think so.

    Elderly Eleazar was tempted to pretend to eat sacrificial meat in order to avoid being tortured to death.
    https://www.bible.com/bible/431/2MA.6.GNBDK

    The youngest of seven sons who had watched his 6 older brothers refuse to eat the sacrificial meat, was also tempted. He watched as Antichous IV Epiphanes, one by one, had the scalps ripped off of his brothers’ heads, their hands and feet chopped off, and their bodies ‘reduced to a heap of breathing flesh’ placed in searing pans, cooked like pigs.

    Antiochus offered to give him the special honor “friend of the King” if he would eat the meat. What a temptation! What a trial! His torture was worse than his brothers who preceded him.
    https://www.bible.com/bible/431/2MA.7.GNBDK

    • Bart
      Bart  December 13, 2017

      No, I don’t.

      • Avatar
        AnotherBart  December 20, 2017

        Don’t you think Jesus, at the least via oral tradition, knew the stories?

        2nd Maccabees 6:10 CPDV
        For two women were denounced for having had their boys circumcised. These, with the infants suspended at their breasts, when they had publicly led them around the city, they cast down from the walls.

        Luke 21:23
        How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!

        • Bart
          Bart  December 21, 2017

          Strictly speaking, there is absolutely no way to know.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

            I’ll rephrase the question:
            Considering the passages below, could
            **[the Jesus that Matthew presents]**
            1) be alluding to the events described in 2nd Maccabees?
            2) Might they suggest the author’s knowledge of the contents of 2nd Maccabees?

            \\\Temple for people, not people for temple. (Maccabees)\\\\\\
            \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
            2 Macc 5:19 (Good News Bible Catholic Edition in Septuagint order)
            19 “But the Lord did not choose his people for the sake of his Temple; he established his Temple for the sake of his people.

            \\\Sabbath for people, not people for Sabbath. (Jesus) \\\\\
            Mark 2:27-28 (GNBDK)
            And Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

            \\\\\\Pregnant women, nursing mothers\\\\\\\\\\\\
            2nd Maccabees 6:10 CPDV
            For two women were denounced for having had their boys circumcised. These, with the infants suspended at their breasts, when they had publicly led them around the city, they cast down from the walls.

            Matthew 24:19
            How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!
            /////////////////////

            \\\\\Don’t be deceived!/Run for the hills!/\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\
            2 Maccabees 5:25-26
            Apollonius arrived in Jerusalem, pretending to be on a peace mission. Then on a Sabbath, when all the Jews were observing the day of rest, he led his troops, who were fully armed, in a parade outside the city. Suddenly he commanded his men to kill everyone who had come out to see them. They rushed into the city and murdered a great many people.

            Matthew 24:20
            Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.
            Matthew 24:23
            At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.
            Matthew 24:15
            “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

    • Avatar
      Abongile Mafevuka  December 29, 2017

      I think this is quite appropriate but as Dr Bart very well have explained he is quite aware how the meaning of the same words today denoted something else centuries back. So the context in which Temptation is used should not be forgotten

  7. Avatar
    steveandcris  December 13, 2017

    When I first researched the Lord Prayer I found what was supposed to be the original as close as could be told what Jesus said in Aramaic.What I found for that line was:
    we’ AL ta ‘elinNA lenis YONA (do not lead us to the test) or (do not allow us to come to the test)
    The source was supposedly Q. Have you seen this version? Is the translation correct? Is it Aramaic?
    The whole prayer was as follows:
    Father
    Holy is your name
    Your Kingdom come
    Our daily bread give us today
    Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors
    And do not lead us to the test

    • Bart
      Bart  December 15, 2017

      It’s semitic — I assume ARamaic. But realize that it is a retroversion back into Aramaic from teh Greek, so that naturally the ENglish translation will sound like an English translation of the Greek itself.

  8. Avatar
    madmargie  December 29, 2017

    I have a problem believing most of the gospel stories really happened. It is my understanding that few of the peasants that followed Jesus could read or write even if they had the materials to do so. They were too busy just trying to make a sparse living. And I also doubt that there were throngs of crowds that followed him. They would be too busy working from sun up till sun down just to exist..

    If nothing was recorded for 70 years except Paul’s writings (and Paul never knew Jesus) even word of mouth would be highly corrupted.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      Yup, that’s more ore less my position. I play it out in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

      • Avatar
        AnotherBart  December 30, 2017

        If you were the one writing the Gospel of Mark–post 70 AD–would you choose to include as one of your characters a person (Levi/Matthew) with a profession that required literacy (a tax collector) who then chose to sit on his quills and papyri for 40+ years?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 31, 2017

          I don’t believe being a tax collector required literacy (although people today always seem to say that it did). There were different levels of people in the tax-collection corporations in the empire. The guy who banged on your door demanding your money simply had to be able to add to know how much money was sitting in the palm of his hand.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  December 31, 2017

            Interesting. Thx. Which level do you think would have been sitting at a ‘tax collector’s booth’? (Some translations call it an ‘office’.)

            Matthew 9:9 NIV:
            As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 1, 2018

            I suppose someone who could count the money.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  December 31, 2017

            Dear Sir:

            I know you’ll get a kick out of this website:
            the “Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS UMichigan)

            The link below takes you to my search for “tax” with dates -99 BCE to 100 CE
            It resulted in about 240 tax receipts + other documents in Greek, some on pottery shards, some on papyri.
            https://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/apis?med=1;op2=And;op4=And;q2=tax;q4=-100;q4=100;rgn2=ic_all;rgn4=apis_year_range;select2=all;size=20;sort=apis_inv;start=101;type=boolean;view=thumbnail

            Blessings,
            AnotherBart

  9. Avatar
    Stanislaw Ruczaj  March 21, 2018

    Prof. Ehrman,

    Do you think that Jesus himself used the Lord’s prayer? I.e., that he prayed, using these particular words?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 21, 2018

      Yes, I basically think so. Of course the prayer is very different from Matthew 6 to Luke 11.

      • Avatar
        Stanislaw Ruczaj  March 22, 2018

        It seems to me that maybe early Christian orthodoxy, which forced Matthew and Luke to change the accounts of Jesus’ baptism, is hard to square with the words of the Lord’s prayer, concerning the forgiveness of trespasses? That is, if they believed Jesus to be sinless, they probably not believed that he prayed to God to forgive him his sins, as he didn’t have any?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 22, 2018

          Interesting point. I guess the orthodox would say that he was teaching his *disciples* what to pray, not that he himself was praying that prayer.

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